Brow Beat

A New Study Finds That Women Outearn Men at the Box Office, but the Movies Are Still Overwhelmingly White

Wonder Woman staring intensely ahead and she stands in the middle of a war zone.
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.
Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

In a not-at-all-surprising-turn, a new study completed by from the Creative Artists Agency and tech company Shift7 found that the 350 top-grossing films from 2014 to 2017 starring women earned more than their male-led counterparts.*

In conjunction with Time’s Up, the study was commissioned in hopes of proving to Hollywood what many viewers already know: Female-led films can be just as successful, if not more so, than those focused on cisgender male leads.

The results proved to be true at every budget level, although as the New York Times pointed out, movies in the $30 million to $50 million budget range had a small lead in median (though not average) box office.

Some of the films included in the study were the Anna Kendrick starrer Trolls, the Megan Fox–led Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Inside Out, Moana, and the game-changing blockbuster Wonder Woman, which left countless women crying their way through screenings across the world.

Other highly successful female-led films in the past year included Academy Award nominees Lady Bird and I, Tonya and the live-action reimagining of Beauty and the Beast. For the purposes of the study, both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi—the highest-grossing movies of 2015 and 2017—were counted as male-led because Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill are listed first in the Gracenote database.

CAA’s study also found that films that passed the Bechdel test, which analyzes if two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man, earned more than those that did not. The study also found that no film since 2012 has earned $1 billion without passing the Bechdel test.

While these findings deliver a compelling argument for why there should be more female-led projects, all but one of the films mentioned above are led by white women. Female-led stories are both profitable and important; however, films led by women of color are far less frequent. Some have proved to be massively successful as well, with Girls Trip and Hidden Figures earning large box office profits, Oscar nominations, and the former bringing forth a breakout star in Tiffany Haddish.

The clear disparity between the number of projects starring women of color comes after a 2017 study by CAA which concluded that diverse casting correlates with higher box office.

Even with the undeniable profitability and critical and social success of these films, a study by San Diego State University found that the number of female protagonists with speaking roles in top films decreased from 2016 to 2017, bringing us to the most logical conclusion: Hollywood likes seeing muscle-y men punch things more than they like making money.

Correction, Dec. 12, 2018: This post originally misidentified Shift7 as a digital strategist. It is a tech company.